Thursday, October 02, 2014

Arakere Narayana Rao (ಅಣ್ಣಣ್ಣ)

A cousin and I were studying Engineering in the same college. He was my senior by a (academic) year. When the examinations appeared far away we both read novels, mainly popular novels. Those were the days when Alistair McLean, Arthur Hailey, James A Michener, Harold Robbins, to name a few, supplied a large part of our reading. One day, the two of us were talking away about some of the books we had recently read. My father and this cousin's father were listening to us. But we were unaware of it.

Suddenly a soft voice asks, "ಅವನು ಯಾಕೆ ಬರೀತಾನೆ?" (Why does he write?). It emanated from a diminutive man with unkempt grey hair, clad in a faded white cotton, perhaps khadi, dhoti and an un-pressed, nondescript bush shirt. An expectant pair of inquisitive eyes stared at us from behind fairly thick, glasses. We were stumped. We struggled for an answer. Did not find any, convincing or otherwise. Eventually I came to the conclusion that he/they wrote for money, fame and so on. Did they really have something to say? Perhaps Michener had. Did we get an idea of what the characters in the novel felt deep inside them? The answer surprised me – perhaps Harold Robbins’ characters did. Did the problems the characters faced have any bearing on my life? I later read about literature and art and got a ghost of an idea of what makes good literature. Perhaps this question had a lot to do with it.

That innocuous sounding soft question triggered a lot of things.

The man behind the question passed away recently, aged about 96. When I looked back at the times I  had with him and what I had heard about his life, as happens when we lose someone, my admiration for and fascination with and respect for him were all renewed.

My sisters and I called him ಅಣ್ಣಣ್ಣ (aNNANNa). He was the elder cousin of my father, whom we called ಅಣ್ಣ (aNNa), which means elder brother. Being aNNa’s aNNa, he became aNNANNa. He was one of the most well-read people I have met. His formal education ended perhaps at intermediate (12 years of formal education). Though he had to take up a job, (as a ticketing clerk in a touring kannaDa drama company, if I remember right) he kept in touch with his deep interest in literature, mathematics, philosophy and politics (leftist philosophy) and life and the world in general. When younger, he read mathematics in his spare time.

Later, he managed the agricultural lands of a landlord, in a place called kilAra. He bought a small house in Mysore to enable his children to study further. That is when he became more of a regular visitor to our place. He came home and talked to my father about various things. Sometimes the discussions would get really heated and voices would be raised. My mother had to come out and calm them down – “The neighbours will think that there is a fight on!” The discussions were most illuminating.

He was shy and unobtrusive. After talking to my father for an hour or so, my mother would offer him something to drink. Invariably his drink of choice was hot water as he suffered from Asthma. He used to drink coffee, once upon a time. He was an ardent Gandhian. Once he was trying to make a man from his village give up alcohol. That man challenged aNNaNNa “it is easy for you to ask me to give up drinking. Let me see if you can give up coffee!” He never touched coffee again.

It was almost impossible to make a biased, sweeping, generalized statements in his presence. With a sweet and inquisitive smile on his face, he would challenge it. I had to either withdraw it completely or modify it so much that it was no longer as broad or as sweeping or as biased as it once was. I have a feeling that it taught me to weigh my words before I speak. And eventually it made me wary of almost all kinds of generalisations and biases.  My father had a very big role in this too. But what aNNaNNa did was different.

He passed away when I was on travel. I was back for the 13th (?) day rituals. At lunch that day, along with the usual “tAmbUla” all those who attended were given a copy of DVG’s “mankutimmana kagga”. I thought that THAT was a befitting way to end those rituals.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Boy of marriageable age. Parents seek alliances. Boy sees many girls. Does not accept anyone. A relative asks him what kind of girl he wants to marry.

He wants to marry someone who is like the girls he has read about in literature. A girl with lotus-like eyes, rose-like cheeks, moon-like face, Champak-like nose, snake-like hair. Arms like the stem of a banana plant, etcetera.

One evening, the young man is asked to go into a room where a girl with all the characteristics is waiting. He walks into the room, screams and falls unconscious.

Soon, he marries a comely girl and lives happily thereafter.

The elders had created a mannequin with lotus for eyes, roses for cheeks, a champak for nose, arranged over a picture of the moon. The face is adorned by a rubber snake for hair, banana stems for arms and legs, all draped in a saree. The boy sees this abomination in the dim evening light and faints.

This is the gist of a delightful kannaDa short story by M K Indira, if I remember right, I read decades ago.

I was reminded of this story when everyone went hyper because URA talked of leaving the country. I felt that they all acted like this immature young man.

Instead of taking it as an exaggerated expression of his dislike, they took it as literal truth. They urged and taunted a feeble old man to leave the country a la Husain.

"Hyperbole is the use of exaggeration as a rhetorical device or figure of speech" - Wikipedia

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Maria, Sachin and all that - 2

Sequels hardly ever match the first creation, whether in movies or novels. I am almost certain that the same fate befalls this post too. But these stories are struggling to get out. I will let them out and inflict it upon whoever reads them. The other reason for writing this is a comment to the original post.

Dr M R Raghavendra Rao had narrated another story. A bit of background: MRR Rao had played cricket in his college days. He had represented the state and had played in a few Ranji Trophy matches too. Later, he thought that cricket was a silly game and a big waste of time - especially for a poor country like ours.

He was once on a flight from Bangalore to Delhi. I tall and handsome young man came and sat next to him. He soon realised that the other passengers and the air hostesses were all excited and were fussing about him. Once the flight took off and things settled down, he talked to the young man. Now I switch to the as-if-in-his-own-words mode.

"I said, "I see that everyone is making a fuss about you. May I know who you are?" He said, “I am Roger Binny, Sir". He spoke with great respect and he was very well behaved. I said, "I see that that is your name. But, what do you do?" He did not seem to be offended and said, "I am a cricketer, Sir." I asked him, "At what level do you play?"  "I play for the country Sir", he said.

"I told him what I thought of cricket and gave him my lecture on cricket. You know my lecture. (This was said with a self-deprecating smile). He agreed with all I said - smiling and with respect. Finally I asked him, "you agree with all that I say. Then, why do you still play cricket?"

"He was completely disarming and said, "I simply love the game Sir" "

This speaks volumes about both of them.

The next incident I want to narrate is something I read about forty years ago. I take no responsibility for the accuracy of my version of it. I just tell you the story as I remember it. This is from the autobiography of Mohammad Ali, "The Greatest".

It was the height of the Vietnam war. Ali was to be conscripted into the US army. Ali refused. He even wrote a poem which went something like "I ain't got nothing against the Viet Cong" He was to be arrested and sent to jail. When the world was abuzz with this news, Ali received a transatlantic call. The caller announced himself as Bertrand Russel and asked Ali if it was true that he was against the Vietnam war and that he had refused to join the army and was ready to go to jail for it. Ali confirmed it. Russel congratulated him on his stand and the courage to stand by his convictions.

Ali said to Russel, "Hey man, you are not as stupid as you look". Russel chuckled and ended the call.

Ali indeed went to jail, lost his title, came back from jail years later and regained it. A sporting legend to beat all legends!!

After this, he was in his publisher’s office in connection with his book - "The Greatest". He had some free time and was browsing through the Encyclopaedia Britannica and came across the entry on Russel. It described him as one of the greatest mathematicians and philosophers of the twentieth century, a pacifist, Nobel laureate in literature and so on. Ali had remembered the name of Russel after the phone call and was mortified that he had talked so lightly and disrespectfully to so great a man.

He called Russel and apologised profusely. As Ali puts it, the two years (?) of school education he had received had not prepared him to know about Russel. Russel brushed off the apologies and made light of it.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Maria, Sachin and all that

Dr M R Raghavendra Rao was a friend of my father from their college days. He was the deputy director of CFTRI in Mysore. A gentle gentleman who was enormously well read, with highly cultivated interest in the arts, especially Hindustani classical music. He used to travel  often on work and he once narrated the following incident from one such journey. He spoke very softly, had a wry sense of humour and thought very logically. Here is the story - as if in his own words.

"I went to Delhi last week. I was seated in the aircraft when a gangly young man, not very handsome, walked in. There was a buzz around and many craned their necks to look at him. I also looked to see what all the fuss was about. My neighbour looked at me excitedly and exclaimed, "Amitabh Bachchan", as if that was explanation enough. It was not.

"I asked him, "who is he?". He looked at me contemptuously, almost pityingly, and said,  "he is a film star". I was not impressed since I had not heard of him at all. I felt a little superior - not knowing a mere film actor.

"On the return flight I saw Ravi Shankar (Sitar maestro, Pandit Ravi Shankar, not the triple Sri) walk in to the aircraft. I was excited and turned to my neighbour and exclaimed, "Ravi Shankar!!". He craned his neck, took one look at him, was not impressed or excited, sat back and started turning the pages of the in-flight magazine. He did not even ask me who he was.

It served me right. I was exicted about one man and others about another. There was no need for me to feel superior."

I remembered this incident when I read about the brouhaha about Sharapova and Sachin. Sharapova not having heard of Sachin is an incident that could tell the fans that their god is a god with a very limited sphere of impact and tone their admiration for him.

In another incident from days gone by, when Borg won Wimbledon for the fifth time, in a row, reporters asked him if he knew of any other sporting achievement that could be comparable to his. When Borg said that it could be Eddy Merckx winning the Tour de France four times in a row the reporters were pleasantly surprised that he knew about that at all! 

Most do not realise that at that level of most sports, especially individual ones, the players live like hermits. Every minute of their days accounted for in activities oriented towards achieving excellence in their chosen sports and practically nothing else.

Sharapova has not heard of Sachin. So what? Perhaps our admiration for her should go up a notch or two.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Gift

My father built our house, in what was then an extension of Mysore, in 1967. Our family often went to the construction site in the evenings to see how the house was coming up. On the way, we would pass another newly constructed house and became friends with the family that lived there. The family was that of one Sri K R Shankar a much loved high school teacher, soon we realised. His daughter was my classmate in middle school too. Soon, we were referring to him as Shankarmaama and by extension, Mrs Shankar, Shankarmaami. The two families have been friends ever since. 

The year was 1969. I was to take the SSLC (Secondary School Leaving Certificate) exam during the summer of the coming year. I was not a disciplined student. I would not exercise the rigour needed to learn Physics and Mathematics to do well in the exams.

My father must have been a worried man.

One day Shankarmaama proposed that I and the children of a few of his other friends go to his house every Saturday and  Sunday afternoons and he would make all of us work on the two subjects. Thus started the twice a week visit to his house around two in the afternoon every weekend. He taught us the subjects and made us work on umpteen number of problems. He would also give us numerous problems to work on during the rest of the week.

Every day we went to his house for the work out sessions, a table with six chairs around it would be neatly in place. Once we took our seats, Shankarmaama would come dressed in a brilliant white dhoti and a white shirt and the sessions would begin. We knew that he had cut his customary weekend afternoon nap short for our sake. Soon Shankarmaami would come with six cups of hot Horlicks. She thought that it would help us keep the post lunch drowsiness at bay. It did.
Thanks to this imposed rigour I did much better than I would otherwise have done in the final exams. Once the results were out and the marks cards were received, Shankarmaama was very happy that we had all done well.

Soon after, we were all invited to their house to celebrate our success. We had a very pleasant evening with nice things to eat and strong coffee and then came another surprise. He gave each of us a gift!

This is a fine one. A man foregoes his twice weekly naps, sat for hours with us and taught us - the same thing he had done the rest of the week at school - supplied us with Horlicks, rejoiced at our success and gave us a gift too – expecting nothing in return!

I have always wondered how my life would have turned out but for him and his family. Who knows? I wish I could say that the rigour was instilled in me and remained with me the rest of my life. But alas, it did not.

How does one thank a couple like that?

This is the gift he gave me that day - a carved sandalwood pen stand.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Is that

an accusing finger
pointed at the skies
for the inequities of
the world

a craning neck
scanning the horizon
for the beloved

a raised arm 



a tall being
to shed light
on a 
dark world

just a symbol

stand up
and be counted

of foolish

of elitist aloofness

to stay upright
in a sea of temptations

to stand
up to


- just a reliable ol'
light house

to warn against
the rocks?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Ramesh Jhawar and his Art

I have been travelling for the last couple of weeks and more. I have been to or passed through Delhi, Dubai, Amsterdam, Maastricht, Tongeren (Belgium), Hyderabad, Kolkata, Kharagpur and Manipal. Ufff...

All I wanted to do the first free weekend after many was rest - basically do nothing.

But, Ramesh Jhawar's solo exhibition of watercolours is on at Karnataka Chitrakala Parishat (usually referred to as CKP). Visiting that would be sheer pleasure and hence I went. Nor was I disappointed.

He is an artist I admire a lot.

Ramesh hails from a business family in Erode, TN. He has been interested in drawing from his childhood triggered by the comics - Phantom and Tarzan to name only two. He was introduced to oils in his college days. Milind Mulick's (whom he always refers to as Milind Sir) book on watercolours changed it all and he has never looked back!

I love his works for various reasons. Unlike many watercolour works, his works are full of details that never appear contrived or painstakingly executed. His eye for colour and composition are very highly developed. Works that appear to be full of details when viewed from a distance reveal the abstraction and reduction to essential shapes that are used to achieve it,  viewed close up.

Here is a picture of Ramesh with some of his paintings.

The exhibition is on till 26th Jan 2014 - one day left as I write this. 

Please do visit!